May 14, 2020


As the material/conceptual locus for Common Ground’s remote stay-at-home artist residency, unfolding slowly through this tremulous spring of 2020, The R.A.W. PostLibrary opens with a collaborative performance of “Welcome to the Secretome.” This opening is not so much an event as an experimental process, which officially began last week with a special visit to the R.A.W. ass pasture on a glowing green Cinco de Mayo morning. With this opening underway, we can now begin to dig into muddier questions of what it means to know a place, what it means to own a plot, what it means to sink a post or stake a claim and call an infinitely complex mesh of unfathomable ecologies one’s “home”—and then in turn how we might either seek to transform barbed and rusty ideas or unwittingly pass them on. Because in these strange and expansive stay-at-home times we’re in, it is important to begin with this proposition:


Welcome to the Secretome (A little R.A.W. history)

It happened at home one Saturday, in the rare mysterious glow of an October morning when the sun hovers just on the other side of a ghostly glowing mist. In this singular autumn weather phenomenon, influenced by the forested mountains and the westward Pacific Ocean, the trees loom and omnipresent spider-webs leap quivering into the visible light: delicate webs you would never see otherwise, except in this special luminous weather. That morning we happened to be out wandering around in the R.A.W. pond pasture—humans, pups, asses, and so on—and something happened. Oddly I can’t recall how it was that I came to be holding that image of my dear donkey Aliass’s microscopic muzzle-tongue culture; but when I held it up just so in that special light, it became a sort of secret portal, an opening into the place we call home in a never-before-noticed way. And then, as another moment passed, it became something else: a kind of (im)possible “treasure map.”

Layered into the landscape this way, the paths inscribed in agar by nameless, hungry, desiring microbial lives tangled with the meshes of the suddenly-visible spider-webs and the other less-visible threads of care, connection, and desire that bind lives together in timeplaces. All this came into focus, if sub-visibly, like tales scrawled through the earth in translucent ink. This was just the sort of opening I had been searching for, if unknowingly; here was a new way of thinking into specific ecologies—a kind of obscure portal into active un/knowing of places, habitats, territories—a kind of dive into the layered living meshes we inhabit, as inscribed in sub-visible life-stories unfolding as they flow through our shared habitats.

From this first voluptuous slide into what I’ve come to call “the Secretome,” I began dreaming up new and different ways to invite others to come along—to explore hidden, unfolding relations within seemingly-familiar places through this inscrutable biosemiotic portal. So the so-called Secretome emerged as an alluring score for an experimental mode of exploring habitats, hunting nameless idiosyncratic “treasures” and seeking paths into different dimensions, temporalities, and forms of active un/knowing in the places where we find ourselves. In the spring of 2017, as part of the Microbiomes: To See the Unseen exhibition in Corvallis, Oregon, this impulse took the form of an invitation to local humans, to come participate in an experimental workshop called “R.A.W. Welcome to the Secretome.” This first workshop was performed with artist Emily Stone and fifteen participants in and around the Rural Alchemy Workshop (R.A.W.) home barnyard in Philomath. After Emily led the group in a series of improvisational exploratory movements in the barn, we presented the “treasure maps” made from Aliass’s muzzle-tongue culture, then invited all to delve into the deep mud of the barnyard and steamy hot manure pile and wander in the wet grassy pasture, while actively and imaginatively seeking whatever treasures they might each hope to discover—and with the caveat (from Gregory Bateson, via Alfred Korzybski) that “the map is not the territory” (Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity). “Welcome to the Secretome performances have since unfolded in a number of different places, inviting inward and outward and in-between explorations via secret maps cultured from a semi-wild deer’s muzzle on the Pacific shores, or the deeper roots and soils of a biodynamic farm in Norway, or the wonderfully biodiverse, dirty, and vibrant assemblages of humans, plants, and many others (including the near-magical appearance of a little spotted ass named Benito and his generous human caretaker, Eva) that came together for E.A.R.T.H. Lab’s SEEDBED: Soil Symposium in Santa Cruz, California. 

Embracing the far limits of human languages and lenses (even/especially the microscopic ones) with a certain wonder, Welcome to the Secretome’s loose experimental score plays with a new kind of “mapless” territory that is also always in some ways “home,” even as it brims with inscrutable stories writ in sub-visible traces of past-present-future becomings. The Secretome project has evolved through all kinds of places and collaborations, from trans-Atlantic barnyard exchanges with the radical art-agriculture collective Kultivator to chasing deeply local forest kinships and microbial portal-storying with Muddy Creek third- and fourth-graders.

As a homegrown, time-based, and site-specific performance score—discovered and originally enacted right here in this very R.A.W. pasture in the fall of 2016—“Welcome to the Secretome” feels like the best possible opening through which to dig into questions of home arising in these times, and in relation to Common Ground’s art/ecology focus. So here and now, with this stay-at-home way-of-life in place, we are honored to open the R.A.W. PostLibrary with a Common Ground collaboration that both expands the experimental Secretome method in new directions and brings the score back home to the R.A.W. grounds. To amplify timely and challenging questions about how to inhabit local/global multispecies (mammalian, plant, insect, and viral) ecologies, the R.A.W. PostLibrary opens by welcoming ECA member, fellow Common Ground artist and pandemic-time home-schooling parent, Jill R Baker, and her child/companion, Fox, into a collaborative exploration of unknown homes and new kinds of time and ways of life unfolding.


Next post up: PHASE 2 of the R.A.W. PostLibrary opening . . .